Advertising Disruption

Caution: disruption ahead

Birth of The Digital Advertising Agency:

Advertising agencies could soon face a road block. This article will use “could” instead of “will” as it is a very sensitive subject and a topic of heated debate, with no one really wanting to cross path with the established heavy weights that drive an industry that is worth millions, or billions of dollars per year – the Business of Advertising.

The road block in question is the fate of the traditional model of advertising and brand marketing. So far everything was smooth running, no major disruptions, except for a few pot-holes now and then called ‘digital advertising’ which surfaced around the time of the Dot Com boom. However back then, Digital advertising was played down as “online extensions” of traditional advertising. It was literally thought of as a convenient way to show progressiveness of a brand and for more practical reasons such as to offset printing costs, by letting people download an electronic version of a brochure or a postage stamp sized video clip.

No one thought much of Digital Advertising and the webshops, until the past 2 to 3 years, when three things happened. Broad band internet access became widely available to most of the developing world. Secondly, portable connected devices, i.e laptops, and smart phones became cheaper and more wide-spread. The third was a curious phenomenon called Social Networking.  In a broader perspective, technology had become affordable and people were able to communicate and connect with each other faster than ever before.

It is only natural that where ever there is a communications platform, there will be advertising. This came to be called – Digital Advertising. Who better to spear-head this than the severely battered and struggling web-shops surviving in the aftermath of the Dot Com era.  They were always around, doing company websites and product micro websites. As technology started getting better, faster and cheaper, it was a perfect Teco-system (technology eco-system) for the web shops to evolve into full blown online and digital “brand building” agencies. After all, people now are spending more time online than on passive entertainment and info-tainment systems like television and paper  magazines.

The invention and evolution of Technology Genes:

It is also natural that everything evolves. Here is an interesting insight. Suppose we were to consider that the world of today and of the future is to have two kinds of Genes – The building blocks of life. We all have human genes that evolves as we know it… really…slowly. Then there is man made genes, amongst that, silicon, the building blocks of Technology that is evolving so rapidly, it’s hard to predict the future of this artificial gene. If it can be even be called artificial any more! With ongoing advances and work on neural networks and artificial intelligence, the line between artificial and natural gets blurry very fast. What is the relevance of all this to the predicted demise of the traditional AD Agency?

Stay with me a while… Traditional Advertising is and was all about informing and trying to influence a person to buy a certain product or a “branded” version of a product. But this was done using creativity that consisted of “catchy slogans”, the use of passive Media delivery platforms viz. TV, Print and OOH (out of home) media platforms such as billboards and Signage.

Make way for the Experiential Advertising Agency:

There was no emphasis on letting people experience a brand and judge for themselves – the true merit of one brand’s claim to superiority over the other. Sure there is brand activation, but that is at the mercy of the Marketing dept. of the brand. There was also an unfair advantage that a richer brand had over an upstart – Brand clout, by spending more on advertising and media platform buying. All this has suddenly changed. Technology has caught up, or evolved and has leveled the playing field. Clever and catchy brand tag-lines are not enough to sell a brand. Passive television viewing has declined and no one is paying attention to traditional advertising anymore. Soon it can be predicted that Digital Ad Agencies could also be hitting pot holes along the road, because technology Genes are evolving at such a rapid pace… awareness is a ‘given’. The consumer is now demanding Brand Interaction and a Brand Experience to be truly convinced of a Product.

Technology is making it possible for the audience to interact and experience a brand, and to not have to rely on an “announcing agency”  – to make them aware of the existence of a product or service. Social Networks and the dubbed “social media” phenomenon is more than capable of spreading the word and influencing audience behavior via peers, in a way traditional advertising had to struggle to achieve using the previous broadcast model of information dissemination.

Metrics: Can it measure Evangelism?

Metrics, a tool-kit much needed and revered by advertisers and marketers, just may get redundant soon, and would be needed only for brands that are new or not worth knowing about! If it’s not yet tweeted, or isn’t someone’s Facebook status within 3 months of launch, it’s a failure. That’s all a brand needs to know, to measure the success of an ad campaign and the product.

Let’s rethink metrics. Before it used to be eyeballs at a location measured or guessed at, by people with clipboards. Then there was website “hits”. This graduated to “unique page views”. Even today a Youtube video’s “views” can be rigged quite simply to rank it in the million range with some clever tricks. The real “metric” should be, do people remember and spread the word forward about a brand? i.e Do they Evangelize on an advertisers behalf? This is why companies ‘in the know’ are watching social media tools and trends… to see how many people are actually tweeting foward or passing the message across to peers. This is not to say however, that metrics, analytics and statistics are all wrong and not needed. They are, but Marketers should not have their world revolve around this.

The 5 reasons as Advertised in the Headline:

1) Digital Advertising Agencies will take over Traditional Ad agencies – No one wants to hear this, especially the established 50 year old traditional agencies. But if you look at it, Digital Agencies were mostly webdesign shops that evolved. It seems they get it! They know that there is a new kind of DNA they need to inject into their system, Tech Genes. they did that when they evolved to Digital Agencies, and chances are they will evolve into Experiential Advertising Agencies. Traditional Ad agencies who refuse to acknowledge there is a problem will slowly fade away, just as unfortunately the Vinyl record and analog amplifier (with all it’s “warmth in sound”) has faded away.

In defense of  nostalgia: Analog is like the human trait – of “feel good” the old fashioned way. Digital is like the Quick Fix – the Addiction. This “fix” is versatile, quicker to lay your hands on, makes you feel good, is in abundant supply and is cheaper to access. Consumers now don’t leave home without it. Guess who’s winning.

2) The all important  – Creative Tag Line– This is what made and partly defines the Traditional Ad Agency. The ability to come up with a catchy tag line that encompasses the Brand experience and makes a user feel special! It is the exclusive domain of the Creative Dept in the traditional ad agency. Chances are, that an undiscovered creative head could be the next 16 year old teenager who “tweets” the next catchy Tag Line for a brand and it spreads like wild fire over social and business networks.  “JUST DID IT” innocently tweeted after buying a pair of Nike shoes, would have gone viral with friends, in a matter of minutes if tweeted by a teenager. The plus side is, He / She would not be on a high salary roster!

Augmented Reality Billboards for Branding

AR Billboards – Media Buying for Free.

3) Advertising went from Television to Online and now it’s gone Virtually Outdoors – Enter AR (Augmented Reality). Traditional Ad agencies had a very important role in the life-cycle of a Brand or a product. Making audiences and consumers aware of the brand and more importantly influencing the consumer to choose the brand over another, using any number of influences, from creativity in developing an ad, to creative overall brand strategy for long term visibility. One of the easiest was to “buy” media real-estate as much as possible. It was even easier if the brand had deep pockets. Typically what this meant was buy up as much of prime time TV as possible and all the good outdoor locations on High Streets in a town or city.

Until Augmented Reality showed up. Today and in the very, very near future, (reading in months rather than years) any small time brand can usurp a bigger brand for “brand visibility” outdoors and indoors. The example picture above and article is linked from TarikSedky’s blog

So you take Product Experiences to mean product sampling? Take a look at the “experience” in the video above.

4) It’s about User Experiences not User Awareness – Advertising has been built on creating user awareness for a product and creating brand loyalty, thereby hoping to influence the buyer to buy into the brand. As mentioned in today’s connected world, users are aware! from the moment a product is in prototype, to before the first shipment is loaded, users are aware! This can be from the latest model BMW to the next cellphone. Even start-ups that have not established their name or brand identity can play along by releasing a message on social media networks calling their product the latest I-phone killer or something similar to cause and initiate the first wave or “viral” campaign.

So what users are really looking for is some way to experience the product. This is where the ad agency of tomorrow’s “Creativity” will be based on. With Technology today capable of replicating Sight, Sound, Tactile feel and even smell – chances are the user experience will be technology assisted or technology centric. Arguably a weak point in Traditional agencies who’s thinking is usually centered on established Platforms of  TV, product sampling and print. Taking digital “outdoors” is too technical a subject and would have to be outsourced to reason number 5 below.

5) Experiential Advertising Agencies will be Brand Advisers not Brand Promoters – While the actual Product manufacturer itself can leverage the new digital channels for advertising and brand awareness at virtually no cost, it is highly unlikely that they will. Their core area and focus is to create a product or offer a service, and have specialists promote it. This is true, but as we are now seeing, smaller start-up businesses are able to compete with the bigger manufacturers via technology. Today in the services sector, if a Call center is being manned by 100 people, or a smaller business who is using an arsenal of intelligent software, scheduled macros and a staff of 5 is capable of doing the same job or better, who would the end audience’s vote go to?

Too long, traditional advertising has been passive to a certain extent in dealing with a client. The agency of today, for their own survival would need to take a bolder stance or face extinction. Experiential Ad Agencies, will do more than just brand promotion and awareness and thinking up cooler TV commercials and tag lines. They will be doing independent self financed or externally funded research on a client’s product and coming up with even better usage and product placement scenarios than possibly thought of by the clients themselves. Who says that the Ad Agency of the future has to stay within the confines of what advertising was defined half a century ago. That is like dog years in today’s Technology driven world.

The smart Experiential Advertising Agency will know how to sell the latest brand of SONY BRAVIA 3D TVs, when everyone is predicting that with a lack of 3d content coupled with the recession, who would want to buy a 3D TV? The Ad agency that evolves from the demise of traditional agencies will probably be bold enough to conduct independent research and come to the conclusion that with the purchase of every 3D capable TV, a free or subsidized Basic 3D camcorder be thrown in. Directly overcoming in a big way the lack of content and the possibility of a massive product adoption failure.  Home made content from birthday parties, and yes…even the suggestion of private bedroom videos is what will sell more 3D televisions than any thing that the manufacturers are currently gambling on.

It should be said that the Experiential Advertising Agency that is soon to evolve, will have a mix of media professionals along with  Thinkers having specialized backgrounds, generating the creative forces that power the agency. As we head toward the year 2054, uncanny as it may be, many of the prophecies of what advertising will be are already materializing much sooner, as seen in the movie clip from Minority Report above.

It is no co-incidence that when researching and brainstorming the future of advertising, that the movie’s director did not approach any of the Big Ad agencies, but formed a Think Tank of diverse specialists.